Question Time on Disabilities

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In lieu of a regular weekly debate, the Union Debating Society and Fay Morrice, the Students’ Representative Council member for disabilities, held a Question Time on Disabilities.

During the evening of 14 November, numerous experts on disabilities came together in Lower Parliament Hall to present their work in making the UK more accessible, share their personal experiences and answer questions about disabilities in the UK.

The panel included experts from not-for-profit organizations and government. The not-for-profit sector was represented by Ken Reid, Chair of the Royal National Institute of  Blind People; Jim Elder-Woodward OBE, Convenor of Independent Living Scotland and Rob Warren, Assistant Director of Student Services for the University of St Andrews. Government panelists were MSP Michale McHon, Convener of the Scottish Welfare Reform Committee and Dame Anne Begg, the first elected MP to use a wheelchair full-time.

Many of the panelists stressed that the UK has become a lot more accessible for the physically disabled over the last 30 years but there is still a long way to go before the UK will be completely accessible. Ms. Begg noted that when she first began using a wheelchair full-time in 1984 she had to double-check that all her destinations where wheelchair accessible before she departed. She lauded that today, accessibility has improved so much in the UK that she is able to just assume wherever she is going can accommodate her.

The discussion was informative but focused on physical disabilities to the neglect of mental disabilities. Mr. Warren said that mental disabilities are becoming more common and around half of disabled university students have a mental disability such as dyslexia, autism or depression.

The takeaway message was that our attitudes are the biggest barrier to integrating the disabled into society—and that is something each of us can change.

Can’t get enough of debate? This coming Thursday, 22nd November, UDS will be debating the motion “This House Would Rather Have Britain’s Constitution Than America’s.” The event will be held in Lower Parliament Hall and is free for all students to attend. A much-anticipated evening, the debate will feature six incredible expert speakers.

Speaking first for the proposition is Baron Butler of Brockwell, KG GCB CVO PC. Lord Butler is a member of the House of Lords and has served as Private Secretary for five different Prime Ministers. He also served as the Head of Home Civil Service for ten years. He will be joined by second proposition speaker, Professor Dawn Oliver, QC, FBA. Professor Oliver is Emeritus Professor of Constitutional Law at University College London who also served as Dean of the Faculty for six years. She was also the Chair of the UK Constitutional Law Group 2005-2010 and Lionel Cohen Lecturer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem of 1995. Rounding out the opposition is Valerie Schiller, a postgraduate student at the University of St Andrews. She is completing a degree in International Political Theory.

Across the table, author, journalist, and radio broadcaster Michael Goldfarb will open for the opposition. Mr Goldfarb has written for The Guardian, The New York Times, and The Washington Post, and made documentaries for the public radio program Insider Out from 2001-2005. His most recent book is Emancipation: How Liberating Europe’s Jews from the Ghetto Led to Revolution and Renaissance. He will be joined by Professor Sir David Edward KCMG, QC, LLD, Drhc, FRSE. Sir David is Professor Emeritus at the School of Law, University of Edinburgh. He was appointed as one of the inaugural Judges of the European Court of First Instance, and was appointed in 1992 to the European Court of Justice, from which he retired in 2004. Summing for the opposition is Maxwell Baldi, magistrand at the University of St Andrews studying International Relations and Modern History. He is also the Students Association Chair and President of the History Society.

Doors open at 19:30, with a port reception to follow until the debate at 20:00. As always, gowns are encouraged but not required. Given the high-calibre nature of the speakers and the interesting motion being debated, UDS highly recommends getting to Lower Parliament Hall early to ensure getting a seat.

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